Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 11, 2009
Pope takes message of peace to the Holy Land
Pilgrimage includes sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict is set to begin a weeklong visit to the Holy Land, a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Christ and a journey through a political and interreligious minefield.
In many ways, the May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is the most challenging of the pope’s foreign visits to date, one that will test his skills of communication and bridge-building in a region of conflict and mistrust.
After recent communications missteps at the Vatican, the pope can expect to find his every word and gesture under scrutiny by the world’s media.
Although the world may measure the success of the visit in terms of international or interfaith diplomacy, Pope Benedict is going to the Holy Land first and foremost as a religious pilgrim.
“The priority is to witness to the truth of the Incarnation by visiting, as head of the Church, the places where the events of our redemption took place. That’s the point,” said Franciscan Father David Jaeger, an Israeli priest and adviser to the Vatican.
The pilgrimage has a special focus on peace. The pope, in announcing the visit, said he would be going to the Holy Land to pray for “the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all humanity.”
Jaeger said that’s extremely important at a time when hopes for peace among the population are the lowest in many years. “The worst thing that can happen is the loss of hope for peace. So for him to speak openly of the possibility and the necessity of peace and reconciliation should thrust those values into the fore,” Jaeger said.
The first leg of the pope’s trip will take him to Jordan for a series of carefully chosen liturgies and encounters, including a visit to a mosque in Amman, reflecting the pope’s aim to reach a wide Muslim audience.
Much of the pope’s itinerary follows in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II’s Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000.
PRAY AT MOUNT NEBO
Pope Benedict, for example, will pray at Mount Nebo in western Jordan, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying. And, like his predecessor, he will visit the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized.
The pope travels to Jerusalem May 11 and later that day visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in what Vatican aides view as a central event of the trip. Pope Benedict has spoken eloquently about the Holocaust, and as a German has recalled growing up as a witness to the brutality of the regime that targeted Jews for extermination.
Vatican sources said, however, that the pope would not be going to Yad Vashem to apologize as a German, but to invoke a wider lesson on the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism.
On May 12, his first full day in Jerusalem, the pope visits sites sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He begins at the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest shrines, and proceeds to the Western Wall, sacred to Jews.
MANGER SQUARE MASS
The pope will make a daylong visit May 13 to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and today a key administrative city of the Palestinian Authority. The main religious event of the day is a Mass in Manger Square.
The pope will celebrate Mass May 14 in Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, and later visit the Grotto of the Annunciation and hold a prayer service with Catholic leaders of Galilee.
These liturgies are central to the pope’s pilgrimage, offering moral support to the dwindling Christian population in the land where the church was born.
Cardinal John Foley, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said the pope’s visit would underline the importance of maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
“He will do what Peter always does: encourage the faithful, recognize them, give them a renewed sense of worth and let them know how much the universal Church appreciates them and the importance of their faith,” Foley said.